It is said that championships are won in the postseason. In such expressions, the value of the regular season is mitigated or at times, even lost. It is true, no one ever won an NBA championship in the regular season. However, that doesn't relegate the regular season to meaningless. Championships are won in the postseason, but championship teams are built in the regular season.
If you're looking for a recap of the Bulls game, you're not going to get it in this article. I want to talk about what kind of team is being built in Chicago. During last night's game I just started thinking of Rocky Balboa, defying his opponent, daring him to hit him, and thriving the more he was beaten. This is your Chicago Bulls.
Adversity faced the Bulls before the season even started. Having gutted the team to land a big name free agent they were spurned by Bosh, James, and Wade, each of whom had given the Bulls reason to hope. Derrick Rose rose to the challenge though and set the prestigious goal of winning the MVP this season. At the time, it seemed noble, but far fetched. Now, it seems realistic.
No one faced more adversity that backup forward Taj Gibson though. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated writes of Gibson's compelling, heart-wrenching story. On the day he was drafted he flew out his three best friends to celebrate with him. In separate instances, over a six week time, each of those young men passed away this summer. Rather than fold, he too rose to the challenge, and has put himself into the discussion for most improved player.
When they started on the "Circus Trip" a quick survey of the upcoming schedule looked borderline nefarious, and had me wondering what Chicago had done to the schedulers to merit such punishment.
In fact, of the seven games on the road trip, five of the teams they would face were in the playoffs last season. Included in that were three of the four semifinalists, both finalists, and the eventual NBA champion Lakers. Additionally two of those teams, Los Angeles and San Antonio, presently own the two best records in the NBA.
Furthermore the Bulls were going to have go on this road trip with their starting power forward, Carlos Boozer, out with a broken hand. It seemed hard to find three wins on the trip. Many Bulls fans were checking daily to find updates on Boozer's status, just hoping that Bulls would be close .500 when he returned.
The young Bulls squad though, led by their rookie coach Tom Thibodeau, weren't hearing of it. They are a team of fighters. This is a team that already set a franchise record with a 24 point come back win against the Pistons in October. In spite of having trailed in every game on this road trip by at least eight points in the fourth quarter, they've gone 3-2 against some of the toughest competition in the NBA.
This. Team. Has. Heart. There's no other way to say it. If Rocky were an NBA team, he'd be these Chicago Bulls. As far as I can tell, the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to have two comeback wins of 23 points or more in the same season. What's even more impressive is that they weren't just down their starting power forward, they were also down their back-up power forward in last night's game.
It would have been understandable, even excusable, if midway through the longest road trip in a decade, a night after losing to the world champions, a game in which Rose and Noah had combined for nearly 80 minutes, having arrived in Phoenix at 3:00 in the morning, without their top two power forwards, and down by 23 in the second quarter if the Bulls had merely cashed it in. Again I have to say.
This. Team. Has. Heart. They would not go away. They kept fighting back, cutting the lead to 15, it went back to 18. They cut it to 15. It went back to 19. They cut it to 12, and that's where it stood at the half. The Bulls kept working at it, cutting it down ten, eight, six. Then the Suns would put a run together and it went back up to 18. At 4:39 of the third quarter the score stood at 78-60. Derrick Rose had 5 personal fouls. It would have been understandable, even forgivable if the Bulls had given up. But they didn't.
This. Team. Has. Heart. They just kept playing hard. They kept getting stops. They kept cutting the lead. They went on a 26-9 run and midway through the fourth quarter they were only down three and it started to feel like the Bulls could win. With 45 second to go, they finally tied it. It wasn't until the first overtime they took the lead for the first time. When Rose finally fouled out, midway through the second overtime, the defense stood up strong, only giving up two points after he went out.
Rose, surpassing 30 points for the fourth time in five games, was doubtless the leader of this team, but make no mistake, this was a team win. It was a gelling moment. The "bench" was standing for most of the fourth quarter and both overtimes, along with their coach who never seems to be sitting. This wasn't just a big win, it was a formative win.
Joakim Noah sums it up this way, “One thing about this team, we can look ourselves in the mirror, win or lose, and know we’re giving everything we’ve got to try to win. It’s a great feeling.” Even Carlos Boozer, who has yet to play, has been in attendance for every game and every practice. This is not a collection of players, it is a team.
If you're looking for the un-Heat you can't help but get behind this team. They are a team thrice spurned by "Miami Thrice." While the Heat are a team falling short of expectations, the Heat are exceeding expectations. While the Heat coaching position grows increasingly shaky, Thibodeau is looking to be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year honors. While the Heat have been hampered by their weakness at point guard and center, the strength of the Bulls are Rose and Noah.
And most importantly, while the Heat have succumbed to their difficulties, the Bulls have thrived through the face of adversity, both on and off the court. Right now if you want to point your finger at one thing that makes the difference between the Bulls and Heat, it's simple. This. Team. Has. Heart. That's what you build in the regular season. It's what you thrive on in the postseason. It's what wins championships.